By the time Spc. Erica Chung, moved from South Korea to the United States with her family in the winter of 1997, she had already won a flute competition where she performed the Mozart Flute Concerto from memory.
Twenty-three years later, Chung has been pronounced one of the newest winners of a fife position in the United States Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps in Washington, D.C., one of four premier ensembles in the United States Army Bands.
Chung, a flutist assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division Band, began her music career with piano lessons, but she switched to flute after her mother noticed that she enjoyed her recorder lessons at school more than she enjoyed piano.
“I didn’t mind putting in hours and hours of practice time, nor did I ever grow tired of it,” Chung said.
Upon graduating from Cypress Falls High School in Houston, Texas in 2002, Chung’s motivation and commitment to regular practice helped her earn three degrees in flute performance: a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and a master’s and doctoral degree from Stony Brook University in New York, where she was hand-picked to join the flute studio of renowned-flutist Carol Wincenc following a graduate audition at The Juilliard School.
After completing her doctorate, Chung’s next career step was to find a job where she could use the skills she had spent years honing.
“One night I was on Facebook and saw an Army Musician job posting,” shared Chung. “So I left my information and the next day I was contacted by one of the liaisons.”
After making initial contact with the liaison, Chung revamped her resume and sent recordings of herself playing flute to them, which resulted in a live audition at the United States Military Academy (West Point), and the next thing she knew she was going to basic.
Upon graduating from Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina she was subsequently assigned to the 1st Cav. Div. Band, where she has worn several hats as a flutist, music librarian, repair & upkeep representative, and member of the administrative team since April 2018.
Most notably, Chung founded the unit’s current woodwind quintet.
Chung’s childhood experience playing recorder, as well as her graduate work in early music history and participation in Stony Brook’s Early Music Program, primed her interest in earning a spot in the prestigious Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
Members of the Old Guard paid a visit to her Advanced Individual Training class at the U.S. Army School of Music, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach.
“I was instantly inspired by their professional musicianship and smooth, flawless marching techniques and maneuvering,” said Chung. “I loved the sound of the fife and I wanted to learn to play it. I was also interested in their early music performance opportunities.”
In order to be considered for the Old Guard, Chung first had to submit a pre-screening application, which included video and audio recordings of her flute playing. Invited to the live audition at Fort Myer, Virginia, she was evaluated on the basis of several assessments over the course of two days: playing prepared selections on piccolo both with sheet music and from memory, marching while playing the fife as well as solo, sight-reading, and an interview. A highly-competitive position, Specialist Chung was not selected for the job when she initially auditioned in November 2019, but she did not let that setback derail her dream.
In preparation for this second audition, Chung purchased her own fife and sought private lessons.
“I studied the fife for about 8 months. I also played for my friends and officers in my unit from memory, which helped me greatly in preparing for the memorized portion of the audition,” said Chung.
A mentor from the Fife and Drum Corps also helped Chung get ready for her audition.
Chung will be taking the skills she’s acquired in the 1st Cav. Div. Band, and in the Army more generally, with her to her new home on the East Coast. Quick to credit her friends and command team with her success in Army music, Chung says it’s important to surround yourself with people you can learn from.
“My commander’s marching background and his experience greatly helped me to prepare and execute marching techniques required for success at my audition. I knew if I paid attention in all marching band rehearsals under his direction, I would do well in my audition, and it paid off,” she said.
Chung also thanks her former roommate, Staff Sgt. Katie Stephen, a trumpeter at the West Point Band, for her support.
“She told me to always believe in my craft and myself. I took that to heart. I believed in myself that I could do it,” she said.
When asked what her professional and personal goals are for the next few years, Chung states, I want to get really good at fife. She would like to keep her flute skills up, too, by revisiting orchestral literature and excerpts, playing in a local orchestra or on the substitute musician list for one, and potentially taking lessons with Aaron Goldman, the principal flutist of the National Symphony Orchestra. On a personal note, she looks forward to reuniting with her five year old Boston terrier, Sabrina, and living in her own place. And she wants to learn tennis, she adds.
As Chung prepares for the next chapter in her Army career as a fife instrumentalist in the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, she encourages fellow musicians and soldiers to never give up on their goals.
“If something is really important to you, there’s a goal that you want to accomplish, you will put in the time to practice, and that’s what I did. Believe in yourself,” Chung said.